Preparing for the referendum?

By July 16, 2013Uncategorized

Most people interested in tracking how the referendum debate pans out over the coming year and a bit will welcome the news that the Today Programme’s James Naughtie will front wider BBC coverage from September.

With the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence due for publication shortly after he starts, there is no better time for BBC Scotland to be announcing a big-name, highly regarded journalist like Naughtie to get to grips fully with the many complexities of the debate and to seek to scrutinise all sides in the debate.

It goes without saying that in journalistic terms, the referendum is of huge significance to BBC viewers and listeners on both sides of the Scottish border, whether they have grasped that fact yet or not. After all, this is the vote that will have an enormous bearing, constitutionally, socially, legally and economically on everyone covered by the license fee.

Of course, the referendum will also be of direct interest to the BBC’s corporate directors. They, like the custodians of any large national institution, will have to watch closely to get clear answers about what the outcome of the vote means for a myriad of issues, whether to do with remit, funding, payroll, or the taxation framework in which they do their jobs.

And they will be acutely aware of the risks of getting embroiled in debates over political bias amid the highly-charged political atmosphere that is already emerging. Indeed, were I a betting man, I’d lay good money on the likelihood that the BBC will be accused of bias – on numerous occasions – by representatives on both sides of the referendum debate before the outcome is clear.

That’s fine, as long as they are prepared to anticipate and meet such accusations head-on as and when they arrive.

The same basic principles go for any large or medium-sized organisation in Scotland looking ahead to 2014. Behind the scenes, responsible boards of directors and trustees really should be thinking about what constitutional change might mean for their organisation, and they should also proactively be planning what to say if they are asked publicly about the outcome of the referendum debate.

In some cases (though not many, I suspect), this might be a brief exercise that concludes they will carry on, “business as usual”, irrespective of whether it’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in the vote. For others, this should be the opportunity for a deeper analysis of what makes business tick and what aspects of the political changes being proposed by the different political sides could spell either opportunity or threat for it.

The point is, with Naughtie et al about to up the ante on the public profile of the referendum debate, there has never been a better time to kick start the essential process of analysing how the vote will affect corporate planning, reputational risk assessment and communications preparation in the year ahead.


Peter Smyth